The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, March/April 2014.

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Leo Vladimirsky. Collar.

Short look at a potential consequence of the economic downturn in the US, with large Chinese container ships moored close offshore, luring desperate Americans to attempt a dangerous ocean swim to get aboard on of the ships, to work in the industries contained therein.

It’s an interesting idea, and with the background set up and explained whilst a man who is to act as a guide, and the desperate young man looking for employment, grease themselves up, there’s nothing post-greasing.

Oliver Buckram. A Struggle Between Rivals Ends Surprisingly

Mannered dealings with aliens leads to a struggle between rivals which doesn’t really end with a surprise, as the title tips the end off! But that’s not the issue, as it’s how the rivals get to the end, and the mannered nature in which they do so, that is the key to whether you will enjoy the story.

Pat MacEwen. The Lightness of Movement.

The lengthiest story in the issue is SF, albeit of the xenological persuasion. I’m not the biggest fan of these, but at least it’s not xeno-lingual a story which tend to be particularly tiresome.

MacEwen gives an interesting take on human-alien interaction, viz. the use of interpretative dance. The protagonist is a scientist on-planet to study the indigenous race through masquerading as one of them, and engaging in courtship rituals. Give the woman her due, she’s willing to suffer for her science, as, erm she sees those rituals through to a full conclusion (admittedly through the use of a very clever and accomodating hi-tech bodysuit).

My dancing, when I used to do it, tended to be one-dimensional, up and down for about 2 minutes, to the like of The Ramones and The Clash. Shannon has a range of different moves, but these get her into trouble as she disobeys the commandment not to give the aliens an inclination that she is anything but one of them.

She gets very close to one family, and sacrifices have to be made.

Ron Goulart. Hark, the Wicked Witches Sing.

Gentle Goulart humour featuring Hix, the best second-rate B-movie writer in Hollywood in the 1940s, as he comes across a dame who is being “hoodooed, hexed and futzed” and is need of his help to eliminate her invisible nemesis.

Sarah Pinsker. A Stretch of Highway Two Lanes Wide.

A farming injury leaves young Andy with only one arm, unfortunately the one with the tattoo proclaiming his love for Lori, the girl who dumped him not long after it was inked.

Andy gets a new hi-tech arm, with an interface to his brain, which goes well up to a point – the point being that the arm has a yearning for the wide open road – one particular stretch in fact. An unsettling story full of yearning for what you can’t have.

Daniel Marcus. Albion upon the Rock.

A story that upon reading it, sticks in the memory as being longer than it actually was.

It’s a half dozen pages long, but has a big compass, starting with an intelligence whose “name was a multi-dimensional index that spanned the region in spacetime occupied by his countless avatars”. Into his purview comes a generation starship, long, long into it’s voyage, it’s AI somewhat compromised. And on the starship the humans have reverted to an altogether more primeval existence.

Enough invention to fit a much longer story, and worth the read.

John DeCles. Apprentice.

Young Dafyd the Difficult is apprenticed to a wizard, and there is magicke, gryphons and gems.

Ted White. The Uncertain Past.

A short story looking at time travel. TBH it’s a story that if you gave to someone who has never read any SF, they would probably quite enjoy thanks to the settings and the ideas/questions raised.

But to someone who has been reading SF for a long-time, and can recall writing a school essay about time travel 40 years ago, there wasn’t much fresh to glean from the story, and the location where the protagonists pitch up at the end, and find themselves in great peril, was a fairly obvious one…

D.M. Armstrong. Butterscotch.

Chilling story of an expectant couple plagued by a regular visitation from one of the shambling, dead ‘travelers’ (and the mother-in-law).

Gordon Eklund. I Said I Was Sorry Didn’t I.

Eklund has been writing high-quality SF as long as I have been reading it, and I’m pleased to say that this story is of as high a standard as his best (not always the case with authors decades into their career).

The protagonist is probably as unpleasant a character as you will find – bad enough that he’s the one causing the imminent end of the world (we never find out how), but he’s a Douchebag with a capital C (my description and capitalisation).

He’s extremely uncomplimentary about his wife, and entirely self-absorbed and obsessed, and thrown out of the house by his wife, he throws himself at the mercy of his sisters. One is a writer (who writes novelisations of old TV series, a neat touch once you know wiki was a novelizer of Star Trek TOS Back in the Day).

The story follows him through the last hours, as another sister (memorably outfitted in an outfit that Paul Di Filippo could have dreamt up) helps point him in the right direction (looking up as the stars go out).

Rob Chilson. Our Vegetable Love.

Nice fantasy story from Chilson, although to be clear, the story features trees, not vegetables! In a rural community, following the disappearance of the local wizards, trees which have absorbed the memories of those who have dies, have to help the villagers in clearing new saplings.

One young girl thinks she is so-o old enough to join the work, and of course…

Michael Libling. Draft 31.

Deceptively clever story from Libling – you have to pay attention from the offset to pick up clues as to what is actually happening.

Ostensibly, a GP has returned to his hometown, wife in tow, and his old highschool sweetheart turns up, concerned about the behaviour of her teenage son, and his ‘invisible friends’.

However, it turns out that something much bigger is afoot, as the strength of the doctor’s desire to get what he realises he really wanted from life becomes chillingly clear.

Conclusion

Clearly something is wrong with the time-space continuum as there’s way too much content to fit into even 250-odd pages, and it must be something to do with superdense dark matter that has meant I’ve been reading the issue since April. And there’s some excellent stories in the issue.

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